The following is a calypso, after the style of Cy Grant, on BBC’s Tonight, anchored by the imperturbable Cliff Michelmore.
Shortly after my father, as a young man, joined the City of Glasgow Police, he was involved in a fracas in a public house, during which he injured his hand. After the battle, he received some attention, and advice from a senior officer. “Son, next time you’re in a rammy, use your stick.” Which US President was it said, “Talk softly, and carry a big stick”? In the 1930s, when Winston saw what was happening in Nazi Germany, he declared that we had to rearm, not in order to fight, but in order to parlay. Preparation for war was the sole guarantor of peace. Now the new head of the army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, is glooming us up about the imminent possibility of World War 3. British troops “must be prepared for battle in Europe once again”. Boots on the ground. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? That a military man should ask government for more manpower and weaponry is de rigueur.
Last week the Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Kyiv to pledge the imminent delivery of more big sticks. Kyiv must have seemed a more attractive destination to him, on the day, than Doncaster. It’s a photo opportunity he clearly relishes, and carries off rather well. “Volodymyr, good to see you!” “Ah! Boris! Welcome!” He pledged a lot of stuff, arms, training, economic assistance. Mind, President Zelensky might do well to take any promise from the PM with a pinch of salt. The PM’s opponents say he is making the script up as he goes along, chiefly to divert attention from intractable difficulties at home.
I wonder which member of the government originally came up with the Rwanda wheeze. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a rather belated April Fool’s gag, in very bad taste. We are going to export our refugees the way we export our plastic detritus. Out of sight, out of mind, like landfill. We associate Rwanda with the genocide of 1994, against the Tutsi. Not at all, said the government. Rwanda is an up-and-coming nation with a fast-growing economy. And the people-traffickers must be deterred. This is an example of cognitive dissonance: Rwanda is an attractive destination – look at these nice pictures of plush hotel bedrooms – and it is an unattractive destination, otherwise the traffickers, and the refugees themselves crossing the channel at great personal risk, will not be deterred.
Lord Geidt, erstwhile ethical advisor to the government, has resigned. At first, the government was rather coy about publishing his letter of resignation, but they really needn’t have worried, because Lord Geidt himself was rather coy about expressing the reasons behind his action, other than saying he had been put in an “odious” position. I thought “odious” was an unusual choice of word. He might have called his position “invidious”. It’s one of these words that gets bandied around without anyone being quite sure what it means. I would say that being in an invidious position is like being in what the psychiatrists call a “bind” or, worse still a “double bind”. It doesn’t matter what you do; you are in a “lose-lose” situation. You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Now “between a rock and a hard place” is another strange expression, as if you can’t think of another synonym for “rock”. But I digress. In fact, “invidious” comes from the Latin for envy, invidia. If you are in an invidious position, you are likely to excite envy in others, and thus, ill will. Now that is odd. Surely an invidious position is unenviable.
But Lord Geidt did not say his position was invidious. He said it was odious, or hateful, from the Latin for hatred, odium. That is a strong word. He was being asked to rubber-stamp as ethical a course of action that he considered unethical. In order to do so, you need to go beyond the realm of cognitive dissonance and enter the realm of doublethink. Either that, or you resign.
What else is going on at home? The trains grind to a halt this evening. Sir Keir Starmer doesn’t believe the government wants to keep them going. Rather HMG wants everything to seize up so as to sow class division. Some of the unions are even calling for a general strike. Would that be the first since 1926?
And the problem posed by the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and a hard border in the Irish Sea, continues to bamboozle Westminster. It’s like trying to solve the ancient problem of trisecting an angle using only ruler and compasses. It is manifestly impossible.
Now that Brexit is beginning to bite, I rather suspect that some of the old school Tory remainers who were purged from the party must look back upon the SNP’s paper of 2014, Scotland’s Future, with a certain nostalgia. A politically independent Scotland within the Union of the Crowns, a shared currency and bank of last resort, and an open border. What’s not to like? Had that been the case, it seems very unlikely that the rump of the UK would have chosen to leave the EU. But of course that is mere conjecture. That opportunity is gone. At the time, Alex Salmond passed a remark that has since been widely, perhaps wilfully, misunderstood. He said that the chance for independence was a “once in a generation” opportunity. He wasn’t choosing that it be so. He was merely saying carpe diem, seize the day, because the day may not soon recur. He might have quoted the words of Brutus in Julius Caesar Act IV scene III:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune,
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
No point in crying over spilt milk. In modern parlance, we are where we are. Energy crisis, soaring cost of living, inflation, recession (= stagflation), and, apparently imminently, a general strike, and World War 3. How is the government responding to all this? Is anybody in government up to the task? Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or woman. Or are they merely responding to each impending crisis with back-of-a-fag-packet formulae? I see that a Google software engineer has been suspended because he has gone public with the notion that his Artificial Intelligence Device – like HAL in 2001 – has gone sentient. His going public was apparently a breach of confidentiality. Whose confidentiality? The device’s? Maybe Google suspended him because they think he’s crazy, or maybe because they think he’s right. I myself don’t believe that machines can be like us, although I do strongly suspect several prominent politicians are turning themselves into machines. As soon as you surrender yourself to the whip, you become a machine. Winston again, back in the 30s: “So they go on, in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
The European Court of Human Rights, to which we remain a signatory as it is part of the European Council rather than the European Union, has for the moment stopped the flights to Rwanda. One way out for the government is to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.
Meanwhile in our hospitals, the frail and elderly are stacked up in the departure lounge, with nowhere to go, while the ambulances are stacked up outside “A & E”.
Drip, drip, drip.